Statistics show that most mortals sell their souls for five reasons: sex, money, power, revenge, and love. In that order.
I suppose I should have been reassured, then, that I was out here assisting with numero uno, but the whole situation just made me feel... well, sleazy. And coming from me, that was something.
Maybe I just can't empathize anymore, I mused. It's been too long. When I was a virgin, people still believed swans could impregnate girls.
Nearby, Hugh waited patiently for me to overcome my reticence. He stuffed his hands into well-pressed khakis, leaning his large frame against his Lexus. "I don't see what the big deal is. You do this all the time."
That wasn't exactly true, but we both knew what he meant. Ignoring him, I instead made a great show of studying my surroundings, not that that improved my mood. The suburbs always dragged me down. Identical houses. Perfect lawns. Far too many SUVs. Somewhere in the night, a dog refused to stop yapping.
"I don't do this, " I said finally. "Even I have standards."
Hugh snorted, expressing his opinion of my standards.
"Okay, if it makes you feel better, don't think of this in terms of damnation. Think of it as a charity case."
"A charity case?"
He pulled out his Pocket PC, looking briskly businesslike, despite the unorthodox setting. Not that I should have been surprised. Hugh was a professional imp, a master at getting mortals to sell their souls, an expert in contracts and legal loopholes that would have made any lawyer wince in envy.
He was also my friend. It sort of gave new meaning to the With friends like these... adage.
"Listen to these stats," he continued. "Martin Miller. Male, of course. Caucasian. Nonpracticing Lutheran. Works over at a game store in the mall. Lives in the basement here - his parents' house."
"Charity or no, it still seems so... extreme. How old is he again?"
"Exactly. If you were that old and hadn't gotten any, you might seek desperate measures too." He glanced down at his watch. "So are you going to do this or not?"
No doubt I was keeping Hugh from a date with some hot woman half his age - by which I meant, of course, the age Hugh looked. In reality, he was pushing a century.
I set my purse on the ground and gave him a warning glance. "You owe me."
"I do," he conceded. This wasn't my usual gig, thank goodness. The imp normally "outsourced" this kind of thing but had run into some kind of scheduling problem tonight. I couldn't imagine who he normally got to do this.
I started toward the house, but he stopped me. "Georgina?"
"There's... one other thing..."
I turned back around, not liking the tone in his voice. "Yes?"
"He, um, sort of had a special request."
I raised an eyebrow and waited.
"You see, uh, he's really into the whole, like, evil thing. You know, figures if he sold his soul to the devil - so to speak - then he should lose his virginity to a, I don't know, demoness or something."
I swear, even the dog stopped barking at that. "You're joking."
Hugh didn't respond.
"I'm not a - no. No way am I going to - "
"Come on, Georgina. It's nothing. A flourish. Smoke and mirrors. Please? Just do this for me?" He turned wistful, cajoling. Hard to resist. Like I said, he was good at his job. "I'm really in a tight spot... if you could help me out here... it would mean so much..."
I groaned, unable to refuse the pathetic look on his broad face. "If anyone finds out about this - "
"My lips are sealed." He actually had the audacity to make a sealing motion.
Bending down, resigned, I unfastened the straps on my shoes.
"What are you doing?" he asked.
"These are my favorite Bruno Maglis. I don't want them absorbed when I change."
"Yeah, but... you can just shape-shift them back."
"They won't be the same."
"They will. You can make them anything you want. This is just silly."
"Look," I demanded, "do you want to stand out here arguing shoes, or do you want me to go make a man of your virgin?"
Hugh clamped his mouth shut and gestured toward the house.
I padded away in the grass, the blades tickling my bare feet. The back patio leading to the basement was open, just as Hugh had promised. I let myself into the sleeping house, hoping they didn't have a dog, blearily wondering how I'd reached this low point in my existence. Adjusting to the darkness, my eyes soon discerned the features of a comfortable, middle-class family room: sofa, television, bookshelves. A stairwell rose to the left, and a hallway veered to the right.
I turned down the hall, letting my appearance shape-shift as I walked. The sensation was so familiar, so second nature to me, that I didn't even need to see my exterior to know what was happening. My petite frame grew taller, the slim build still staying slim but taking on a leaner, harder edge. My skin paled to death white, leaving no memory of its faint tan. The hair, already to my midback, stayed the same length but darkened to jet black, the fine waviness turning straight and coarse. My br**sts - impressive by most standards - became larger still, rivaling those of the comic book heroines this guy had undoubtedly grown up with.
As for my outfit... well, away went the cute Banana Republic slacks and blouse. Thigh-high black leather boots appeared on my legs, paired with a matching halter top and a skirt I never could have bent over in. Spiky wings, horns, and a whip completed the package.
"Oh Lord," I muttered, accidentally taking in the whole effect in a small decorative mirror. I hoped none of the local demonesses ever found about this. They were really quite classy.
Turning from the taunting mirror, I stared down the hall at my destination: a closed door with a yellow MEN AT WORK sign attached to it. I thought I could hear the faint sounds of a video game bleeping from beyond, though such noises silenced immediately when I knocked.
A moment later, the door opened, and I stood facing a five-foot-eight guy with shoulder-length, dirty blond hair rapidly receding on top. A large, hairy belly peeped out from underneath his Homer Simpson T-shirt, and he held a bag of potato chips in one hand.
The bag dropped to the floor when he saw me.
"Y-yes," he gasped out.
I cracked the whip. "You ready to play with me?"
Exactly six minutes later, I left the Miller residence. Apparently thirty-four years doesn't do much for one's stamina.
"Whoa, that was fast," Hugh noted, seeing me walk across the front yard. He was leaning against the car again, smoking a cigarette.
"No shit. Got another one of those?"
He grinned and handed over his own cigarette, giving me a once-over. "Would you be offended if I said the wings kind of get me hot?"
I took the cigarette, narrowing my eyes at him as I inhaled. A quick check ascertained no one else was around, and I shape-shifted back to my usual form.
"You owe me big," I reminded him, putting the shoes back on.
"I know. Of course, some might argue you owe me. You got a nice fix from it. Better than you're used to."
I couldn't deny that, but I didn't have to feel good about it either. Poor Martin. Geek or no, committing his soul to eternal damnation was a helluva price to pay for six minutes.
"You wanna get a drink?" Hugh offered.
"No, it's too late. I'm going home. Got a book to read."
"Ah, of course. When's the big day?"
"Tomorrow," I proclaimed.
The imp chuckled at my hero worship. "He just writes mainstream fiction, you know. He's hardly Nietzsche or Thoreau."
"Hey, one doesn't have to be surreal or transcendental to be a great writer. I should know; I've seen a few over the years."
Hugh grunted at my imperious air, giving me a mock bow. "Far be it from me to argue with a lady about her age."
I gave him a quick kiss on the cheek, then walked two blocks to where I had parked. I was unlocking the car door when I felt it: the warm, tingling feeling indicative of another immortal nearby. Vampire, I registered, only a millisecond before he appeared beside me. Damn, they moved fast.
"Georgina, my belle, my sweet succubus, my goddess of delight," he intoned, placing his hands over his heart dramatically.